Improving Flavors for Kids' Foodservice

Removing bitterness, getting children to enjoy vegetables plus other mysteries of improving children’s nutrition.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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Cynthia Sasaki, senior research manager at Kerry Savory Ingredients, Kent, Wash., says requests for fruit and vegetable seasoning blends are growing largely from processors wanting to make healthful foods fun for kids who are increasingly vegetarians.

Funding from USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program helps plant breeders develop strains with markedly less bitter qualities. While these advances are increasing the acceptance of many vegetables among young people, health experts fear that cultivation to remove bitterness may be decreasing the nutritional value of the vegetables.

Physiologically, acrid-tasting foods like broccoli, kale, romaine lettuce and kohlrabi are also loaded with cancer-fighting phytonutrients, which tend to cause the bitterness.

Another approach is to leave in the bitterness, but hide it. Senomyx (, La Jolla, Calif., is using proprietary assay technologies to identify molecules that bind to taste receptors to create the sensation of bitterness. Senomyx has identified taste receptors that respond to bitter ingredients known to be in a variety of foods and beverages, and it has used these receptors to discover bitter taste blockers, Mark Zoller, chief scientific officer, revealed in a recent press conference.

Senomyx has identified functional responses to 18 of the 25 known human bitter receptors. These bitter-blocker compounds are being scaled up for safety studies to establish GRAS status. The technology should be a boon to formulators at Ajinomoto, Campbell Soup, Kraft and Nestle – companies already working with Senomyx.

The compounds developed by Senomyx are highly potent and will need to be compounded with bulkier inert materials for an easier way of computing how many micrograms of the product to add to pounds of the formulation. Also, application-specific formulations will be necessary because the functionality of each bitter blocker depends on what else is present in the recipe.

Extreme flavors

Superlatives, a big marketing tool for the retail aisles, are rapidly entering the foodservice sector. “Extreme” flavors have proven successful in many categories, but part of the appeal is novelty. Does sensory overload have staying power, even with children?

Kerry’s Sasaki sees the extra-intense salt, spice or sour blends as short-lived requests from consumers. After the novelty wears off, kids tend to go back to the tried and trusted flavors, she says.
Nevertheless, Pepperidge Farm has launched Flavor Blasted Goldfish Crackers in Xtra Cheddar, Xplosive Pizza, Nothin’ But Nacho, and Burstin BBQ Cheddar flavors. According to advertising copy, the flavor overload is meant so one bite can “blast off kids’ taste buds into a new galaxy of flavorful fun!”

Not all extreme flavor sensations are new or can expect to be fads. Lime and cracked black pepper flavors have been around for decades in savory snacks of Spanish and East Indian cultures. Frito-Lay’s launch of Lay’s Sensations and Tostitos Sensations undoubtedly will appeal to the growing trend among kids looking for new shocking flavor experiences and to immigrants who grew up on such combinations in their home countries.


Use of flavor compounds requires significant caution by plant operators. Often very expensive, they are also very delicate and highly susceptible to changes in ambient temperature and humidity. Ensure that the storage conditions are proper. Some require cool dry storage; others may require storage in the dark.

As much as possible, opt for compounded flavors so inert materials protect the potent flavor compounds and protect your investment from deteriorating in intensity and functionality.

Evolving flavor-derivation technology helps. In contrast to the ancient way of deriving flavors by squeezing raw materials, sophisticated extraction and analytical techniques and expert sensory panels are being used to identify, extract and duplicate the essence of key flavor compounds in foods and beverages.

Flavor preservation

New York-based Quest International ( uses freezing technology to create true-to-fruit flavors to benefit dairy manufacturers seeking realistic tropical fruit flavors without the reaction issues of fruit inclusions. For new taste sensations that tease and satisfy kids’ curiosities, the company’s Tropicsense portfolio of flavors includes the popular banana, pineapple and mango as well as the more unusual and exotic bacuri, feijoa, cactus fruit, maracuja, papaya, passion fruit, guava (pink and green), pitahaya, pomegranate, soursop and tamarind.

Flash freezing with liquid nitrogen prevents enzymatic and oxidative degradation and boosts flavor by capturing only the most authentic top notes, so products assume that first-bite freshness of juicy fruits. In addition to identifying new molecules key to freshness in fruit flavors, Quest uses bio precursor technology to develop the ripe character components that children love in tropical fruit.

Young children particularly like strawberry flavor, but the notes should be much “jammier” than the “freshly picked” flavor their parents would prefer, according to Sherry Karow of Kerry Ingredients, Beloit, Wis.

Flavors geared to kids still are often designed with an eye toward candies, ice cream and other dairy applications because that’s where their palates seem to be attenuated. And example is Bravo! Foods’ Starburst Slammers, a line of fortified and flavored milk drinks, which follow the flavor profiles of Starburst candies.

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